COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After finding itself on the business end of a blowout loss a week ago, Kansas State bounced back in the Lone Star State Saturday with a 44-30 road win over Texas A&M. Sure many of the problems the Wildcats have shown in their previous five games were still all too present this weekend, but in the end, wins, no matter how ugly, are the only things that matter. And this one, was in large part, thanks to junior quarterback Josh Freeman.
"Yeah," Prince said when asked if he was concerned over the 544 yards of total offense his team gave up against A&M, "We played a couple things, but we didn't play them perfectly. We got a little sloppy at the end. The tackling wasn't good, and we'll go back and keep working on it. I don't want to throw any rain on the kids though. I'm really happy we got the win. To be able to score that many points on the road, and run the ball is pretty cool."
A win is a win, after all, but it was clear to anyone in attendance that the Wildcat defense, which has now have now given up more than 500 yards of offense in each of the team's last four contests, didn't have a lot to do with the outcome.
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Instead, K-State's fourth victory of the season came due in large part to the efforts of the Wildcats' most recognizable name. Freeman torched the Aggies for 234 yards on 21 for 26 passing Saturday, but none of the damage that showed itself on the scoreboard came through the air.
In fact, the 44 points K-State scored on Saturday came without the help of a single touchdown pass.
The 6-foot-6. 250-pound Wildcat quarterback found the end zone four times on ground during the victory, gaining 105 yards on rushing 18 attempts. So while Freeman may not be a true "dual-threat" quarterback, you wouldn't know it by looking at the stat sheet.
"We knew (starting running back Lamark Brown wasn't going to travel, so we had to pick up the slack somehow," Freeman said. "I'm not a big runner, but when they call my number, I' try to make the most of it."
Even without the services of Brown, who missed this weekend's game with an infection in his knee, Freeman wasn't alone in churning out rushing yards. Running back Logan Dold, a true freshman, surpassed the 100-yard mark despite making the first start of his short college career on Saturday, running for 115 on 21 carries against a porous Aggie defense.
"I think it was pretty important," Dold said of the Wildcats' effective ground attack. "We need to establish out run game to help the pass game out. They both work together. That's something we've been trying to improve on. I think we're getting better."
But K-State's running attack, or the team's offensive numbers in general, don't paint the whole picture of what took place in College Station this weekend.
As good as Freeman and Dold were, most in the Wildcats' locker room point to K-State senior linebacker Reggie Walker's punt block, which came deep in Aggie territory as the main cog in Saturday's win.
After ricocheting off of Walker's hands, the deflected punt, spinning like top, almost miraculously remained just inside the boundary line before it was scooped up by defensive back Courtney Herndon and returned 10 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 13-3 lead.
"I heard the block, and my head just started turning and looking," Herndon said. "I thought it was going to go out, but ran over there anyway. I saw it was spinning. I was like "oh, I'm gonna scoop it". After I scooped it, I thought some Aggies were behind me fixing to hit me -- fixing to nail me. When I looked, I didn't see anything but white jerseys. I was like "oh, I'm fixing to get in the end zone."
The block against A&M punter, and All-American candidate Justin Brantly was the first in the freshman's last 128 attempts, and K-State's fourth punt stuff of the year. More importantly, however, the block may have sparked a short-lived defensive renaissance.
"(The blocked punt) was huge in the game," Prince said. "We tried to use a similar formula than we used at Texas on the road
After forcing a three-and-out on A&M's next possession, the Wildcat offense marched 93 yards in 13 plays, setting up a 4-yard Dold touchdown run that gave K-State a 20-3 lead.
A&M's next offensive series as met by another dose of uncharacteristically solid K-State defense, as fumble, forced by linebacker Alex Hrebec, was recovered by fellow linebacker Ulla Pomele. The turnover eventually resulted in a Freeman rushing touchdown, his second of the game, helping to bury the Aggies under a 27-3 score.
The Aggies would find the end zone for the first time just before the halftime whistle, however, as Jorvorskie Lane capped off an 80-yard A&M drive with a 2-yard touchdown run that cemented his name in A&M history as the school's all-time rushing touchdown leader, and pulled his team within 17 points of the lead in the process.
With the score 30-16 early in the final quarter, A&M would come dangerously close to drawing within six points, but after driving to the K-State 1-yard line, Lane and the Aggies couldn't find a way back to paydirt. The K-State defense held Lane and A&M out of the end zone on both third and forth down assuming possession on downs, and setting up a 98-yard scoring drive that put the Wildcats up 37-16 that put the game out of reach.
Junior wide receiver Aubrey Quarles led K-State in catches in Saturday's win, hauling in 9 passes for 102 yards, while tight end Jeron Mastrud and wideout Brandon Banks combined to catch 9 balls for 102 yards. It was Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill that lead all pass catchers, however, as the freshman racked up 210 yards and 12 receptions.
The Wildcats, now 4-2 on the season, will start search for their second Big 12 victory next weekend, when they travel to Colorado to take on the Buffaloes.